Swim with reef sharks. Snorkel with penguins on the equator. Walk with giant tortoises. Visit the Galapagos Islands. These are just a few things that I had dreamed of doing, yet never deemed possible. This past January, however, these dreams came true. I swam with reef sharks, snorkeled with penguins, and walked alongside giant tortoises on the Galápagos Islands.
In January, I traveled to Ecuador with 15 students and professors to fulfill so many of our dreams to follow in Darwin’s footsteps and visit the Galapagos Islands. Our first day in Quito, Ecuador, was spent walking among the locals, taking trolleys downtown, and trying new foods. After a breathtaking visit to the Botanical Garden, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring. We walked among vendors in a busy market and visited a beautiful Jesuit church.
The next morning, we all boarded an early flight out to Baltra; the anticipation was almost unbearable. After flying below the clouds, we overlooked islands, volcanic craters, and turquoise blue water. After landing, we quickly made it to our boat and we were all anxious to experience the unique biodiversity around us that we had spent all semester studying.
Our days were spent snorkeling and going on short hikes. Our native, bilingual guide, Christian, was ready to answer any question that we had and was truly a wealth of knowledge. He pointed out hammerhead sharks; Nazca, red, and blue-footed boobies; marine iguanas; flamingos; mangroves; and so much more of the wildlife that surrounded us.
The trip felt like a vivid dream. During the five days spent in the islands, I found myself constantly awed by the undisturbed nature around us. The animals we were surrounded by were not afraid of humans; instead they shared the same curiosity of us that we did of them. We spent the trip within feet of blue chinned parrotfish, white tipped reef sharks, very friendly sea lions, marine iguanas, sea turtles, and many more animals.
One of the most memorable experiences that I left the islands with was getting to visit a giant tortoise reserve on the Santa Cruz highlands. This was a spontaneous change of plans once we realized that we would not be able to see the tortoises during the time on our itinerary. The professors and Christian worked quickly to rearrange our schedule, and an hour later we were on a bus traveling across Santa Cruz. At first, we saw tortoises on the side of the road, ducking into their shells as we passed them. Then we made it to the farm and it was more than I could have ever hoped for. Being able to see these gentle giants in their natural habitat is an experience that I hold close to my heart.
Overall, one of the most striking features of these islands is the Ecuadorian commitment to preservation and lack of human impact. On uninhabited islands, not a single garbage can or bathroom is there. Not once did I see litter, as we are so used to in other parts of the world. The islands are such a breathtaking and pure place on Earth, with undisturbed flora and fauna. The Galápagos Islands are a truly amazing and unique destination that allows visitors to see Earth, without the consequences of human impact.
Ashley Loeven ’18 is a biology major from Pawling, N.Y., who plans one day to earn a doctorate in biology. Her trip to the Galapagos was funded in part by The O’Leary International Travel Grants Program, which provides financial awards of up to $2,000 to help offset travel costs for students in Le Moyne’s College of Arts and Sciences participating in study abroad programs. This grant program is administered by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and funded by a gift from the estate of Dr. Harriet L. O’Leary, professor emerita of Foreign Languages and Literatures. - See more at: http://www.lemoyne.edu/Values/Our-Stories/Story/StoryId/254#sthash.WVevGRlA.dpuf